Shell Exits the Chinese Electricity Market, Reshaping Its Energy Transition Strategy

Recently, energy giant Shell announced its withdrawal from the electricity business in the Chinese market, attracting widespread attention. On April 29th, a spokesperson for Shell (China) confirmed this news to the public. Prior to this, both Jiangsu and Guangdong Power Trading Centers had issued announcements stating that they had accepted Shell Energy (China) Limited’s application to voluntarily exit the market.

This move is consistent with information released by Shell during last year’s ‘Capital Market Day,’ and is related to Shell slowing down its pace of energy transformation. It is also linked to intense competition and difficulty in profitability in China’s electricity retail market. After Shell’s new CEO Wael Sawan took office, he redefined the company’s energy transition path, emphasizing the three principles of ‘performance, discipline, simplification,’ and focusing on areas where they excel.

In March this year, Shell released the first update of its energy transition strategy since launching the ‘Empower Progress’ business strategy in 2021, lowering carbon emission targets and adjusting its electricity business development strategy. In the new version of the strategy, Shell will focus on specific markets and segments, including selling more electricity to commercial customers and reducing electricity sales to retail customers.

Despite the accelerated development of Shell’s electricity business since 2019, the outbreak of conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the aftermath of rapid energy transition have led to a sharp rise in prices for traditional fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, making energy security a priority. In 2022, international oil companies are beginning to return to rationality from setting aggressive energy transition goals and cutting investments in traditional oil and gas businesses by re-emphasizing upstream operations.

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In addition, Shell’s electricity sales business in China did not go smoothly, which is one of the reasons for its market exit. Since 2015, the new round of electricity reform has opened up on the retail side and become one of the highlights of the reform. However, with the opening up of the market, competition has become extremely fierce, and many electricity retailers are competing through price wars to gain market share.

Due to tight supply and demand for electricity and rising coal prices, national electricity retailers experienced widespread losses in 2021. Nevertheless, as policy management becomes stricter, profitable large-scale electricity retailers have started to improve their earnings. However, smaller or less experienced electricity retailers face increasing pressure.

Currently, Shell has defined its power business areas globally in Australia, Europe, India, and the United States, excluding China. In these countries, Shell will continue to establish electricity businesses including renewable energy to achieve its energy transition strategy goals. Although Shell is no longer pursuing becoming the world’s largest electricity producer, its low-carbon strategy will still recognize the role that oil should play.